Having a new experience abroad can go so far as to change your life path, which is what happened to Senior Meghan Howard when she spent summer 2011 in San Vito, Costa Rica. Howard stayed near the country’s border with Panama for 11 weeks to conduct research on the health care-seeking behaviors of migrant Ngöbe coffee workers who also are mothers.
Howard said she originally intended to continue on to medical school after her undergraduate studies, but that her research this past summer solidified her now future plan to obtain a Ph.D. in anthropology.
“I decided I want to end up going into research because I love it so much,” she said.
While Howard worked with migrant Costa Rican workers in the summer, she returned to the country in October 2011 to conduct research on migrant Panamanian Ngöbe mothers to compare their infant mortality rates to those of the Costa Rican Ngöbe mothers. She examined why the rate is higher for the Panamanian workers. Howard carried out this research in conjunction with Duke University’s Organization for Tropical Studies.
Although her research is not yet finalized, Howard noted there are structural differences in the two groups’ care that could contribute to the varying mortality rates. These differences include that Costa Rica’s health system covers indigenous individuals while Panama’s health system does not, and the Panamanian workers are more inclined to use traditional healers.
Howard said she encountered several challenges when conducting her research, such as the difficulty of finding women to whom she could speak after they spent long hours working on the farm all day. She also said the Costa Rican workers faced significant sanitation concerns, including limited access to clean water.
Despite the challenges she encountered in carrying out her data collection, Howard said once her research is complete, it could ultimately help improve the migrant workers’ access to health care.
“Being able to come up with a product, I can give back to that community,” she said.
Howard first visited Costa Rica to start conducting her research in January 2011. She said spending time there initially and just learning about the culture was important for her to understand the community she was working in and have its members understand her as well.
“I would say at least the first month was building trust,” Howard said.
Howard also plans to apply for a Fulbright Grant to continue further research in the area. She believes spending time abroad and learning about another culture, as she did, can be valuable for all students.
“I wish everyone could have this experience,” she said.
“It was absolutely life-changing.”
Meghan Howard is a senior anthropology major from Roanoke Rapids, N.C. She received funding to conduct her research in Costa Rica through CGI’s Carolina Undergraduate Health Fellowship. To learn more about this and other funding opportunities, please visit the Awards + Fellowships section of our website.
Spending summer 2011 in Kumi, Uganda, senior Jen Serdetchnaia, saw firsthand that forming close, personal bonds can be the catalyst for social change. Serdetchnaia first spent summer 2009 in Uganda where she interned with the Microfinance Support Center, and became good friends with her supervisor, Immaculate Okurut. The two women then started a microfinance trial of giving ten goats to ten girls for them to raise in order to learn entrepreneurship and financial skills. This venture launched the organization Empower U, which Serdetchnaia runs with Okurut and other UNC students. Serdetchnaia and two students, Elizabeth Atwell and Rebecca Hundley, also traveled to Uganda last summer to increase Empower U’s structure, organization and work further with its beneficiaries.
Serdetchnaia, who also spent her 2009-2010 winter break in Uganda, said carrying out the microfinance project in the country was interesting because of the idea of community that already exist there.
“In a way, they share more than we do, but they don’t have this established concept of philanthropy,” she said.
Some of the tasks carried out last summer included creating a work plan and opening a bank account to help increase Empower U’s legitimacy and visibility in Kumi. Sedetchnaia, the other students and her counterparts also conducted grant and letter-writing trainings with organization staff and conducted home visits with Empower U’s beneficiaries. Empower U is a registered community-based organization in Uganda and a registered 501 c (3) nonprofit in the U.S.
Serdetchnaia, who also studied and lived abroad in China and Ecuador, said she was always drawn to go back to Uganda after first spending time there. However, her other experiences, primarily the one in Ecuador, also taught her the importance of using a community-based approach when working in any context.
“It was hammered into my head you do not force solutions into communities,” she said.
Empower U plans to continue its work in Uganda and expand its presence in the UNC community. It seeks to keep working with UNC students and wants to train them as consultants for the organization.
Serdetchnaia said Empower U aims to be an organization to which students can feel like they’ve significantly contributed and used their time effectively, especially if it is their first exposure to global work.
“It’s so important for students’ first international experience to be positive and productive,” she said.
Students who work with Empower U also can design their own projects to implement with the organization, as long they are in line with Empower U’s goals. Examples of this include journalism students who want to make a documentary, which can help raise awareness of the microfinance ventures that benefit young girls in Kumi.
Serdetchnaia said so far, she has seen a positive response from all the students who’ve worked with Empower U.
“It really fosters such a change in the students who do this.”
Jen Serdetchnaia is a senior health policy and management major originally from Belarus, and most recently from Toronto, Canada. Elizabeth Atwell, Rebecca Hundley and she received funds to work with Empower U in Uganda in Summer 2011 as CGI Awardees of the Group Project Abroad award. To learn more about the award and others, please visit CGI’s Awards + Fellowships section of the website.
In her final year of nursing school, senior Tina Evans was able to take her birthing and labor experience and apply it to a new setting: health centers in Guatemala. Tina worked for two months in the country this past summer, first spending about 10 days at Casa Jackson, a pediatric malnutrition center in the city of Antigua, and then seven weeks at Hospital Nacional, a rural, public hospital in the town of Jutiapa.
Evans said while Antigua was a touristy, urban place with many resources, the Jutiapa hospital had fewer resources and staff to meet its needs. When working with the labor unit in Jutiapa, she said there were only five beds for the 30 needed, and women often would have to share recovery beds post-delivery until they could go home. But Evans said if patients at the hospital ever needed more urgent, critical care, they would be transferred to a larger hospital.
Evans, who also works with Latino populations at UNC Hospitals, said her time in Guatemala gave her new respect for the individuals from Central and South America she currently works with here. It also helped her realize the best approach to care for these populations.
“I knew the importance of culturally competent care before I left, but now I feel better able to provide culturally competent care,” she said.
Evans also coordinates the UNC Birth Partners program, which provides doulas to women at UNC Hospitals. Doulas offer non-medical care and assistance to women before, during and after labor.
Evans's primary work at the Hospital Nacional—which also is a teaching hospital—this summer included attending births, assisting with cervical exams and transferring newborns to the hospital’s equivalent of a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Evans also worked in the reproductive health clinic, where she talked with people about birth control and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and did Pap smear exams.
Some of Evans’s reproductive health clinic work included explaining to women if they have an STI, it’s likely their partner has it too, which she said was challenging in that culture.
“It’s a very machismo society,” she said.
Evans said some of the successes she felt she had at the hospital were often simple things, such as talking to nurses about and ensuring they did not use the same needles with patients’ different IV lines and always wiping off patient tables after they were used.
“It’s hard to be there for two months and say, ‘we’re going to change all these things,’” Evans said.
While Evans initially wanted to be a certified nurse midwife in the U.S. when she began school, she now would like to work abroad again. After graduation, she plans to return to Jutiapa in June 2012 to visit.
Tina Evans is a senior nursing major from Asheville, N.C. She received funding to work in Guatemala through a Carolina Undergraduate Health Fellowship. To learn more about this fellowship and others, please visit the website's Awards & Fellowships section.
Art often is overlooked when thinking of international interventions, but Postcards for Progress is a UNC organization using just that to promote understanding between students of different cultures. Junior Asia Morris is a current advisor for the organization and traveled to Yorito, Honduras this summer to research and carry out Postcards for Progress’s model of having UNC students conduct cultural exchanges through art between secondary school students in the U.S. and other countries. While examining the organization’s model, Morris also conducted an exchange between middle-school aged students in Yorito and Chapel Hill. Students drew scenarios on cards then wrote an accompanying narrative on the back of each one.
Morris said she thinks using art to promote understanding between students is useful given the broad audience it can reach.
“It’s also something tangible they can create and exchange with other people around the world,” she said. “It’s also not something that requires a common language.”
Postcards for Progress uses various artistic mediums—including drawings, photos video and music—for the exchanges it coordinates, with generally, only one artistic medium being used per exchange. Student Brendan Yorke is the director of the organization, which primarily works with students going on study abroad trips who form relationships with schools in the countries they visit to create an exchange between those students and ones anywhere in the U.S. Exchanges have been conducted in Rwanda, China, Turkey and Belize, among other countries. Morris said carrying out an exchange is enlightening for everyone involved—not just the students.
“Not only are kids exchanging and learning from one another, but also the facilitators are learning.
Morris has worked with Postcards for Progress since 2009, serving as treasurer then fundraising and advertising chair, but this summer was the first time she coordinated an artistic exchange in another country for the organization. She was in Yorito from May through July. Postcards for Progress chose Yorito as the place where a staff member could carry out and evaluate an exchange to study and further its mission because of existing connections through a student who conducted an exchange there the previous summer while volunteering with Nourish International.
Morris said she worked with about 10 students in Yorito to create the cards they exchanged. She originally met with about 24 students, but conflicts in their schedules, such as also helping at home or taking English classes after school, prevented all of them from participating in the longer-term exchange. Other challenges she encountered while working there included communication issues, as it was her first time speaking Spanish abroad, and adapting to the unreliable Internet connection.
Ultimately, Morris said Postcards for Progress wants to carry out about one or two well-structured exchanges per semester and one in the summer. It also wants to continue its model of conducing exchanges through students studying or doing internships abroad. She said this method works best because the time that goes into an exchange may not warrant a full workload, and students may already have some existing relationships in a country.
Morris, who wants to be a speech therapist, said her experience in Honduras benefitted her long-term goals because working hard to speak another language in a different country helped her gain confidence interacting in a professional setting in her native language, English. Overall, she said coordinating an exchange herself helped her see the benefit sharing something between two cultures can have.
“Even though we’re in different countries with different cultural backgrounds, we can still work together to create something.”
Asia Morris is a Junior Linguistics and Speech and Hearing Sciences major from Charlotte, N.C. She traveled to Honduras this summer with funding from a Center for Global Initiatives C.V. Starr Scholarship. To learn more about this scholarship and other funding opportunities, please visit the website's Awards and Fellowships section.
While having rocks thrown and jeers aimed at her was not on her summer agenda, master’s student Anna Kirey experienced both when interning in Croatia. Kirey marched in the country’s first Gay Pride Parade, held in the city of Split. About 200 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and allies marched in the parade, which about 8,000 people came to watch. Observers included both supporters and protesters, with some of the protesters throwing tear gas at the marchers in the June 11 parade.
Kirey helped organize the event as part of a two-week internship from late May through early June with an LGBT and feminist organization in Croatia. She said despite the violence that occurred during the march, she sees it as an important step for LGBT rights in the country and the European Union (EU) as a whole. Croatia was just accepted to join the EU the day before the march.
“Even though it was scary, I can see how much it pushed the LGBT movement further, just by this one march,” she said.
Kirey was not harmed during the march, but many participators were injured. About 600 police officers were present to help maintain order at the event, which was cut short early due to the violence. Kirey said other marchers and she waited about two hours while the parade was canceled and safely cleared out, then police escorted them to a women’s organization’s headquarters in the city.
Kirey said many locals in Split did not attend the parade due to the anticipated violence, but that she learned the importance of working with police in these situations to keep people from being harmed. She also said the event taught her about what can happen, despite resistance, when people and countries are supportive of social movements.
“It was a good experience for me to see what is possible when the political context is ripe enough to support this kind of controversy,” Kirey said.
After helping to plan and participate in Split’s Pride event, Kirey spent two weeks interning with another LGBT organization in Belgrade, Serbia, where she focused on fundraising and research, and helped develop a strategic 2011-2013 work plan for LGBT efforts in the country.
When her separate, two-week internships in Croatia and Serbia finished, Kirey traveled to other countries, including Romania, Ukraine and Turkey. She attended Turkey’s Gay Pride Parade in Istanbul on June 26, which she said was much calmer and less violent than Croatia’s parade. Kirey said Turkey’s history of having the event, which celebrated its 19th anniversary this year, and culture of having more parades overall likely contributed to the march’s peacefulness. Thousands of people marched in the Istanbul parade.
Kirey said her experiences in the different countries this summer made her believe that despite the challenges and stigma LGBT populations and organizations face, Europe and the EU are supporting the movement for rights.
“There is definite political will to advance things and the EU has commitments to improve the situation of LGBT people.”
Kirey said some people’s resistance to LGBT rights in Croatia and other European countries is not just a concern there but also in the U.S. She mentioned the recent bill in N.C.—that proposes a state constitutional amendment to ban marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, and also not recognize non-legal marriages and benefits for some opposite-sex couples—as an example of domestic LGBT rights issues.
As a second-year M.A. student in Russian and East European studies at UNC, Kirey said she would like to work with human rights organizations, focusing on LGBT rights, or funders that support these and women’s issues in the future.
While at the Split parade, Kirey ultimately saw support for LGBT rights is present, as people from surrounding Balkan countries also came to the event to show their support. Even a Dutch Member of European Parliament who was pregnant, Marije Cornelissen, participated and gave a speech at Split’s Pride parade.
“I loved her courage,” Kirey said, “I was so amazed she could do it.”
Anna Kirey is a second-year master of arts student in Russian and East European Studies from Nikolaev, Ukraine, and works at UNC's Center for Slavic, Eurasian & East European Studies. She received funding to intern in Croatia and Serbia through the Center for Global Initiatives' C.V. Starr Scholarships. To learn more about this and other funding opportunities through the center, please visit the website's Awards and Fellowships section.
The Center for Global Initiatives also is hosting the annual Visualizing Human Rights conference on Saturday, November 5. Tickets are free and open to everyone. To learn more about and register for this conference, please visit its page on the website.
Sophomore Caleb Dagenhart took the micro-savings skills he learned at UNC off campus this summer and put them to use on the ground in Guatemala. Dagenhart is a member of the Carolina Microfinance Initiative, a student organization that partners with the Raleigh-based nonprofit, Lemonade International, to support entrepreneur, savings and micro-loan programs for residents living in a slum outside of Guatemala City. The student-led, on-the-ground organization located in the slum, La Limonada (Spanish for “lemonade”), is called El Fondo de Apoyo Comunitario Internacional (Spanish for the “Community Empowerment Fund International”), or FAC.
Dagenhart and two other UNC students had the opportunity to help FAC pilot a micro-savings program for six weeks in July-August, after helping run its programs during the school semesters. Micro-savings programs often support individuals to save small amounts of money for specific goals, such as their children’s education or a business. Once a member of a FAC savings program meets his or her set goal, the organization assists the individual by matching 20% of saved funds to encourage and congratulate the accomplishment.
Dagenhart said one of the best aspects of traveling to La Limonada this summer was finally meeting the community members he had worked with the previous year remotely from Chapel Hill.
“I had been reading names and seeing pictures working with them all year,” he said.
The summer program also conducted communication and outreach efforts with the community to further raise awareness for and get residents involved in micro-savings. Dagenhart said his typical work schedule this summer involved helping set up the savings program from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. in FAC's office, and doing out-of-the-office activities, such as field visits with clients, for 15 hours each week.
He also had the chance to see some of the other programs Lemonade International, a community development organization, set up in La Limonada in addition to financial interventions. The organization also sponsors two community schools, and Dagenhart said it wants to get involved in group loans and support residents overall wellbeing.
“Something that helps them with their personal life helps them with their finances too,” he said of community residents.
While Dagenhart said he was only able to work exclusively through Lemonade International due to the safety concerns of being in a slum, he did not encounter any problems while living there. He did face a few challenges during his summer internship though, such as time management in a new culture.
Dagenhart, who had traveled to Greece previously before going to Guatemala, said this summer's experience spurred him to continue more international work. He also is studying abroad next semester with the Uganda Development Studies program.
Caleb Dagenhart is a double Economics and Global Studies major from Stony Point, N.C. To learn more about the funding he received to work in La Limonada, Guatemala this summer, please visit the CGI Awards and Fellowships page.
Combining sports, data and a touch of new media was how junior Kevin Diao spent his summer—all in Kenya. During his 10-week internship with Carolina for Kibera (CFK)—a UNC-affiliated nonprofit organization that promotes health, education and youth empowerment in the slum outside of Nairobi—Diao advised on data collection and management skills to the organization’s in-country staff. He also assisted with creating a database of participants for CFK’s Sports Association, which brings together boys and girls for an annual soccer tournament.
Diao primarily worked with the Association’s officers when helping with the database. He also was able to attend some of the tournament’s soccer games, which take place over the course of several months with the goal of relieving tribal and ethnic tension and conflict. About 5,000 youth usually participate in the tournament.
“The idea is that when you bring kids together to play a team sport like that, it transcends their differences,” Diao said.
While interning with Kibera this past May-August, Diao also taught the Association’s officers how to work with different media programs, including social media, video and blogging. He also assisted with a documentary that profiled several participants in CFK's girls empowerment program, Daughters United. The video was featured on a United Nations social justice blog.
Diao said the documentary is a great tool to relaying the experiences of girls in Kibera to a broader audience. “I think people here would be able to get a lot out of their stories and hear how interesting their circumstances have been,” he said.
During the internship, Diao stayed with a homestay family about 20 minutes outside of Kibera. He said in addition to working with motivated and talented individuals, he learned a lot about the differences in time and deadlines that working in the new culture taught him.
“You have to be really adaptable,” he said.
Diao, who plans to attend medical school after graduation, said he would like to visit Kibera again and that his experience there made him realize he wants to continue doing global work.
“I know for a fact in the future working with international aid organizations or others is something that interests me and I’m going to do.”
Kevin Diao is a junior mathematics major from Charlotte, N.C. He received funding for his internship with Carolina for Kibera through the Center for Global Initiatives (CGI) International Internship Award. To learn more about this and other funding opportunities through CGI, you can visit the Awards & Fellowships section of the website.
My colleague and fellow Program Officer Tripp Tuttle and I thought we might share a few general pointers regarding what to do and what not to do to make a more competitive CGI fellowship application:
1. DO speak to the Program Officer that manages the opportunity in which you are interested.
CGI sponsors many opportunities to learn more about the fellowships we offer. This includes funding information sessions, an annual Global Projects Showcase, international coffee hours, open houses and walk-in hours during the high volume fellowship season. Attend one of these and introduce yourself to CGI staff. Sign up for our eBulletin to receive notifications about these opportunities.
2. Do NOT schedule a meeting with a program officer and a) not show up b) show up unprepared to ask questions or 3) begin the meeting by saying “tell me about this fellowship”
Educate yourself about the requirements of the opportunity and be as informed as possible before approaching a Program Officer with questions. Requirements and eligibility information is available on our website. FAQ’s are a great resource. Read them-the whole way through. If you are unclear about a requirement, ask a Program Officer.
3. DO respect administrative staff.
They are the oil in this university machine. Be nice. Be respectful. They are not here to make you copies, give you paper clips or print a document for you. There are copy machines and printers all over campus. Be prepared!
4. DO seek feedback from friends and faculty about your proposal. PROOFREAD, then proofread it again.
Visit UNC’s writing center and schedule a tutoring session or ask three friends to read and comment on your proposal. Finally, ask faculty you know well to read and review your proposal. While faculty are busy and you should respect their time, those with whom you have a strong relationship are usually willing to review your proposal or to meet for a few minutes to help you flesh out your ideas. Use the resources at your disposal to submit the best proposal possible.
5. DO start the application process as early as possible.
The more time you have to craft your proposal the better. Do not wait to the last minute to seek feedback. For that matter, do not wait to the last minute to submit your proposal. Plan time to handle any last minute problems.
6. DO follow application instructions.
Read the instructions before beginning an application to get a clear overview of what is required. In most cases, application materials are submitted in electronic format. For example, we receive many official transcripts in the mail at great expense to applicants. Most of our fellowships do not require official transcripts. Read the application instructions carefully. If the application instructions are unclear, call or email a Program Officer.
7. DO make sure your letters of recommendation are relevant to your proposal topic
Letters that are generic, or those that simply reiterate your resume do not add value to your application. Developing strong relationships with faculty mentors early in your academic career can go a long way.
8. DO take our advice
If we tell you that a certain fellowship of ours is not the best match for your interests and goals, then its highly likely you will not be competitive, no matter how well-crafted your proposal. This is hard to hear, we know. But taking our advice will save a lot of time, energy and resources for everyone in the end.
These tips should be relevant for most RFP's and fellowship applications. Are you a past fellowship winner or administrator? Share your tips below. We'd love to hear from you.
~Beth-Ann Kutchma & Tripp Tuttle
CGI Program Officers